Twelve Angry Men

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Stubbornness and Taking a Stand Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Reflection of American Society Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Certainty and Doubt Theme Icon
Stubbornness and Taking a Stand Theme Icon
Prejudice vs. Sympathies Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Twelve Angry Men, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Stubbornness and Taking a Stand Theme Icon

The conflict of the play is set in motion by Juror Eight’s lone “not guilty” vote at the start. He is stubborn in refusing to give the easy guilty verdict that a surface glance at the evidence, or conformity to the group’s sentiment, might suggest. By the end, the situation is neatly reversed: Juror Three remains steadfast as the lone “guilty” vote. Yet the play treats these two different solitary stands very differently. Though some might accuse Juror Eight of excessive sympathy, his stubborn insistence that the jury go through the evidence in detail is admired (albeit grudgingly) by other jury members, and forces the jury to treat the trial and its evidence with respect. In contrast, the play unequivocally encourages us to condemn Juror Three’s pigheadedness. Through this mirroring of stubbornness – the first applauded, the second not – the play explores when sticking to your guns is imperative, when it is right but not useful, and when it actively harms both something like a jury process and, more generally, the pursuit of a just outcome.

Juror Eight refuses to vote guilty until the jury looks over and thinks about the evidence. He stands for the jury taking its responsibility seriously and ensuring that there is no reasonable doubt before convicting. After presenting a bit of evidence that he feels begins to establish the reason for his doubts about the case, he even promises to give up and vote guilty along with the rest of the jury if they all continue to think that the defendant is guilty. Juror Eight, it could be said, stands for his convictions about the need to give the defendant a fair shot. His stubbornness forces the jury to look past self-interest in a quick resolution and use reasoning instead of stereotypes. In contrast, Juror Three makes his stand after the jurors have gone over the evidence and raised multiple doubts about its veracity, enough doubt that the other jurors have all changed their positions to not guilty. Juror Three, then, stands for his prejudices, for refusing to see doubts that have been raised. The play, then, suggests two things: first, that being stubborn or taking a stand can be either heroic or cowardly, moral or immoral, depending on what the stand is for. And second, through the jurors that switch sides, the play shows that just as there can be heroism in stubbornness, there can also be heroism in allowing yourself to change your mind for good reasons.

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Stubbornness and Taking a Stand ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Stubbornness and Taking a Stand appears in each Act of Twelve Angry Men. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Stubbornness and Taking a Stand Quotes in Twelve Angry Men

Below you will find the important quotes in Twelve Angry Men related to the theme of Stubbornness and Taking a Stand.
Act 1 Quotes

Three: I never saw a guiltier man in my life... You sat right in court and heard the same thing I did. The man's a dangerous killer. You could see it.


Eight: He's nineteen years old.

Related Characters: Three (speaker), Eight (speaker), Accused kid
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Unlike Ten's collective prejudice, Three displays a more specific and personal dislike of the accused kid. Eventually it becomes clear that Three has bad memories of his son and holds onto the accused kid's guilt to an irrational degree because of this strained relationship. Three is the least rational of the jurors. He is stubborn and he does not waffle like some of the others, but he bases his opinion on impressions and feelings, rather than facts. Here, he exhibits this tendency when he says "you could see" that the accused kid is a dangerous killer, simply by looking at him. Three's certainty of the kid's guilt is founded on shaky ground. At the same time, Eight's doubt is also emotionally-based, as his reply demonstrates. Where Three sees a killer, Eight sees a kid. Eight is inclined to give a kid the benefit of the doubt because of his age. 

From the beginning to the end of the play, Eight and Three reverse roles. At the beginning, Eight stands alone for "not guilty," and at the end, Three stands alone for "guilty." This parallel between the characters shows their similarities and differences. They both base their initial opinions of the kid on their prejudices, but they behave very differently when "taking a stand." Three continues his stubborn conviction based on his feelings, whereas Eight, despite his own sentiments, turns to logic and reasoning to address others. He does not fold under the pressure Three (and the others) put on him for standing alone.


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Eight: There were eleven votes for guilty. It's not so easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.

Related Characters: Eight (speaker), Accused kid
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

The jurors begin their deliberations by taking a vote to see where they stand. In this vote, eleven men vote "guilty" and one votes "not-guilty." Eight's logic, as he states it initially, points out the rashness of the proceedings. These men are ready to let a kid accused of murder suffer the greatest punishment possible without thorough deliberation. Although it becomes clear that Eight has thought rationally about the details of the case, his initial "not-guilty" vote is based on a simple ideal of the American legal system. A twelve person jury is intended to be diverse, so that a case can be thoroughly discussed, prejudices countered, and a better decision reached than any one man might make alone. This requires discussion and debate. 

Despite its initial appearance of uniformity, this jury is actually quite diverse (as much as possible in a group of only men), with a variety of conflicting opinions that come to light when they take the time to discuss them. The legal system is designed to move the reality of humanity (which is messy with prejudices, boredom, and emotions) to a more perfect state in which justice can be served. Getting twelve men to agree is more likely to achieve justice than following the will of any one man. This is not always the case, but Eight reminds the others of the ideal of justice that they should strive toward. He takes a stand in this scene by casting the one dissenting vote. This action is heroic because he is upholding the higher values of justice rather than serving his own interests. 

Eight: I don't want to change your mind.... I want to talk for a while. Look – this boy's been kicked around all his life. You know – living in a slum – his mother dead since he was nine. That's not a very good head start. He's a tough, angry kid. You know why slum kids get that way? Because we knock 'em on the head once a day, every day. I think maybe we owe him a few words. That's all.

Related Characters: Eight (speaker), Accused kid
Page Number: 15-16
Explanation and Analysis:

Eight's initial explanation of why he wants to discuss the accused kid's case does not include an analysis of evidence or the mention of reasonable doubt. This is a notable nuance of the play: Eight is not free from prejudice, despite his critical heroic role in this play. Eight is presented as a hero who persuades the other jurors to change their minds and spare a youth through his thoughtful arguments for reasonable doubt.

This passage shows, however, that emotion, not logic, motivates him. Despite his honorable behavior in granting the defendant's case thorough discussion rather than a rash decision, Eight is just as predisposed to think in certain ways and make certain assumptions as the other jurors. He is sympathetic toward the defendant, and this is partially because of his own feeling of guilt. He sees himself and his group as repeatedly and unfairly mistreating the members of the defendant's group. Eight is biased in favor of the accused kid because he sees his toughness and anger as the result of this mistreatment.

Eight believes in giving each person consideration of his circumstances when considering his crime. He points out the hardships in the kid's life, including the death of his mother. From a legal standpoint, the death of his mother should have no bearing on the kid's guilt. The crime, and not his life, is what is under consideration. But humans are not fully rational beings, and Eight exhibits the power of sympathy to sway opinions.

Three: You’re right. It's the kids. The way they are—you know? They don't listen. I've got a kid. When he was eight years old, he ran away from a fight. I saw him. I was so ashamed. I told him right out, "I'm gonna make a man out of you or I'm gonna bust you up into little pieces trying." When he was fifteen he hit me in the face. He's big, you know. I haven't seen him in three years. Rotten kid! You work your heart out....

Related Characters: Three (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Three's statements about the accused kid are interrupted by a story he shares about his relationship with his own son. Although this seems off-topic, the connection between these things in Three's mind is clear. Talking about the accused kid misbehaving and not listening makes him thinking of his own kid misbehaving and not listening. He makes it clear that he assumes all kids have these problems when he says, "It's the kids. The way they are--you know? They don't listen." He expands his own experience with a kid into a generalization about all kids. Like Ten's prejudice against the kid's group, Three's prejudice against kids in general leads him to be overly confident in his accusation. He feels certain of the kid's guilt without a logical basis for his certainty. 

Three's stubbornness is more understandable with his personal context. Even though Three is cruel, abrasive, and stubborn, his story makes it clear that he is in pain and that the source of his actions is personal suffering, which he is reminded of because of this case. Three was cruel to his son--threatening him for running from a fight--but his bitterness is stated in the stage directions and his unhappiness is palpable as he says "I haven't seen him in three years." On one level, he might feel his kid is really "rotten," but on another level, he feels pain (and possibly guilt) over their estrangement. 

Seven: Now wait a second. What are you, the guy's lawyer? Listen, there are still eleven of us who think he's guilty. You're alone. What do you think you're gonna accomplish? If you want to be stubborn and hang this jury, he'll be tried again and found guilty, sure as he's born.

Eight: You're probably right.

Seven: So what are you gonna do about it? We can be here all night.

Nine: It's only one night. A man may die.

Related Characters: Seven (speaker), Eight (speaker), Nine (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Seven is one of the least engaged jurors; he seems to prioritize concluding the case and leaving, with little respect for the seriousness of the situation, as this passage shows. Despite his motives for rushing the decision, Seven makes a legitimate point about Eight taking a stand against the rest of the jurors. In choosing to stand alone, Eight is preventing a decision that is held by the majority, and that would be reinforced by another group of people if Eight's stubbornness resulted in a hung jury. Eight acknowledges the truth of these words. This shows the tension between stubbornness and taking a stand in the play. When is it good to stand up for what you believe and when is it appropriate to acknowledge that your thinking could be at fault? The play seems to answer that both are important. Three, at the end of the play, must yield to the majority. Eight, at the beginning, takes a stand for a good cause. 

Nine highlights Seven's frivolity in the face of what is at stake in these deliberations: a man's life. Seven's impatience with Eight is partly justified because there are times when one should be able to admit they could be wrong in the face of an overwhelming majority who disagrees. But Seven's impatience is not justified in terms of the ideal proceedings of justice. The legal system is designed to serve justice after thorough consideration and deliberation, and Seven is unwilling to sacrifice his time, even when another man's life is at stake. 

Eight: I've got a proposition to make. I want to call for a vote. I want eleven men to vote by secret ballot. I'll abstain. If there are still eleven votes for guilty, I won't stand alone. We'll take in a guilty verdict right now.

Related Characters: Eight (speaker)
Related Symbols: Secret ballot
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Eight responds to Seven's concerns that he is holding out stubbornly against a majority that disagrees with him by proposing a vote by secret ballot. This gesture shows that Eight is trying to balance stubbornness and taking a stand. If everyone else strongly feels it is time to make a decision for "guilty," he won't prevent this. He is willing to surrender gracefully, unlike Three at the end of the play. This move is risky in terms of Eight's agenda, which is to consider the reasons for reasonable doubt that he has sensed exist in the case. The other men might very easily have stuck with their first decision and proclaimed the accused kid "guilty." In fact, we see that only one man changes his mind even after this next vote. 

Eight's call for the vote by secret ballot is a key moment in the play. When voting by secret ballot, the men are free to make their decision in isolation, without the influence and pressure of others. Certain jurors have already made it clear that they strongly dislike the accused kid or that they're impatient to go home. Eight has already taken abuse and frustration directed at him for delaying the proceedings. It would be difficult to stand up for what's right in this type of environment, in the face of this pressure from other men. Therefore, by voting by secret ballot, the men reach a more "pure" form of justice, "pure" because their decision is based on rational thought without peer pressure. 

Act 2 Quotes

Nine: [Pointing at Eight] This gentleman chose to stand alone against us. That's his right. It takes a great deal of courage to stand alone even if you believe in something very strongly. He left the verdict up to us. He gambled for support, and I gave it to him. I want to hear more. The vote is ten to two.

Related Characters: Nine (speaker), Eight
Page Number: 28-29
Explanation and Analysis:

In the face of ongoing pressure to reveal who changed their vote to "not guilty," Nine reveals that it was he who changed his mind. It seems that he speaks up in order to protect Five, whom Three assumes is the "culprit." In this passage, Nine explains why he changed his vote. His explanation tackles the difference between stubbornness and taking a stand. He admires Eight for exercising his right to disagree because to do so takes courage, a value not included in simple stubbornness, which is generally just selfish. Nine is curious about what else Eight will say because of Eight's willingness to take a risk and to "gamble for support."

Interestingly, Nine's change of heart isn't based on logic or on information about the actual case. It is based solely on the force of Eight's character and his persuasive request for support. While Nine is the oldest juror, and inclined to measured thinking and speaking, this passage shows that he "thinks with his heart," like many of the other jurors. He is persuaded not by reason, but by emotion. This is a reflection of human character more broadly, and it demonstrates the power of Eight's dissension and persuasive speech, as more and more jurors join the "not guilty" side. 

Act 3 Quotes

Three: …You made all the arguments. You can’t turn now. A guilty man’s going to be walking the streets. A murderer! He’s got to die! Stay with me!...

Four: I’m sorry. I’m convinced. I don’t think I’m wrong often, but I guess I was this once. There is a reasonable doubt in my mind.

Related Characters: Three (speaker), Four (speaker), Accused kid
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

Juror Four maintains his rational thinking throughout the play. He switches sides with grace once he feels that "there is a reasonable doubt in my mind." In his measured thinking and unbiased rationality, Four embodies a sort of "ideal juror." He holds onto the ideal of the justice system--that reasonable doubt results in a "not guilty" verdict--and he isn't swayed by passion or stubbornness, but by measured persuasion. He exhibits strength in this passage by publicly admitting he was wrong. This shows the contrast between him and Three, who stubbornly sticks to his viewpoint. Four demonstrates that stubbornness is not the same thing as taking a righteous stand, and that gracefully yielding is more valuable than being stubborn in the face of reason. 

Three is stubborn, but he is also certain of the kid's guilt, as if blind to the rational arguments made by others. He is horrified by the thought of a murderer walking the streets free. He feels certain that the kid must die to pay for his crime. Three sees Four's rational arguments against the kid (and his initial "guilty" vote) as evidence that Four was on his side, rather than as examples of Four's rational thinking. It is difficult for Three to imagine being convinced by evidence when, throughout the play, it is clear that he makes his judgements through gut instinct, as he did when he stated that anyone "could see" that the kid was a murderer, just by looking at him. 

Eight: [to Three] They’re waiting. [Three sees that he is alone. He moves to table and pulls switch knife out of table and walks over to Eight with it. Three is holding knife in approved knife-fighter fashion. Three looks long and hard at juror Eight and weaves a bit from side to side as he holds knife with point of it in direction of Eight’s belly. Eight speaks quietly, firmly.] Not guilty. [Three turns knife around and Eight takes it by handle. Eight closes knife and puts it away.]

Three: Not guilty!

Related Characters: Three (speaker), Eight (speaker), Accused kid
Related Symbols: Switch knife
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

This poignant final confrontation between Three and Eight ends the play with all the jurors unanimously agreeing that the accused kid is "not guilty." This scene moves the struggle from one of logic, prejudice, and words to a struggle that is nonverbal and even potentially violent. Throughout this play, the jurors have used their words to persuade each other. In some cases, this has meant using logic and precision, and in other cases this has meant using personal experience, passion, or emotion. Justice has been sought despite the flaws of prejudice and hatred, despite the biases of the diverse jury. But in this scene it seems that the struggle has shifted from a struggle between "guilty" and "not guilty" to a personal struggle between Three and Eight. 

Eight says "not guilty" and Three repeats the words after him, surrendering the knife in the same moment. This action symbolizes Three's surrender. Eight's way of persuading Three in this passage is mostly nonverbal. He seems more powerful than Three because he does not seem afraid, even though Three is threatening him with a knife. Three, on the other hand, notes that "he is alone" and seems cowed by this. Three does not take a stand, as Eight did, but surrenders when he is the only juror on one side of the equation. Even though Eight has achieved a great feat by convincing eleven jurors to switch to his side, the strength of Eight's character calls the process of justice into question. Eight is smart, persuasive, courageous, and powerful (more powerful than Three in this passage), and it seems these things, more so than the truth of the kid's situation, have resulted in the conclusion of this play and the justice that is served.